It all started back in July when I was just beginning to brainstorm what would come in the months ahead for holiday baking. One of the most classic December flavors – and my personal favorite – is Candy Cane but it got me thinking: do people (namely adults because I know children will consume anything containing even a pinch of sugar) actually eat candy canes? Like not the small-sized ones. And for dessert. Then my follow-up question: How do you eat it?
I wondered: Do you crack it into pieces first? Do you unwrap it from the bottom so that as you go it forms a pointed stick so sharp it could be used to punch holes in holiday gift tags? Or do you attempt to consume it from the hooked end? May I say from personal experience that this is not the most classy of options in the looks department. Especially if you are around anyone else but yourself.
Then there is the problem with size. Can anyone finish off a candy cane in one single sitting? What do you do with a half-eaten candy cane? Again let’s hope your co-workers aren’t around. Say you are in the middle of banging out a few emails whilst enjoying an afternoon candy cane and then you unexpectedly get called into a meeting – what do you do? Just set it down on a napkin and let it hang out for the 30 or so odd minutes?
Lastly, it would be wrong to not mention the whole shrink-wrapped packaging element. Do candy canes even want to be enjoyed and taken seriously as a candy? Some are wrapped so impossibly tight that it makes me think not.
So after collecting and organizing data and plotting the results, I have come to the conclusion that most people delight in the idea of candy canes more than consuming them. I now understand why most recipes involving candy canes call for them crushed. Or perhaps we collectively just all need to have an excuse to smash candy canes with our rolling pins and feel OK about it.
This recipe is no exception and melted candy cane frosting begins with tiny bits of candy cane awesome. Bust out your rolling pin, kids! It’s time to crush away all your holiday stress and end up with delicious cookies as a result.
I must also admit a small, tiny detail about this recipe. I accidentally came up with this glorious confection which I called melted candy cane frosting a whole year ago but I haven’t shared it until now. I am sorry. You should not go another minute without candy cane frosting in your life. I have no excuse other than to say the season is short and candy canes must be used only during that small window. I am pretty sure I made it in just under the wire this year as well.
And the most important finding from my super official poll? A year is a long time to wait for melted candy cane-filled cocoa sandwich cookies to come back in to season.
Melted Candy Cane-Filled Cocoa Sandwich Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen small sandwich cookies
Inspired by tiny chocolate sparkle cookies but with a festive holiday twist!
For the cookies:
1 1/4 cups (156 grams) flour
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (35 grams) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
scant 1/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
For the buttercream frosting:
4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter, very soft
2 cups (200 grams) powdered sugar
2 medium (36 grams) candy canes*
4 tablespoons (60 ml) half and half
pure peppermint extract, to taste
Make the cookies: Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl beat the butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the egg and extracts and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated. The dough will be quite stiff.
Wrap the dough in plastic and gently press it into a disk. Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to several days. If you are pressed for time (or are perhaps like me and can not wait) you should be able to get away with chilling the dough in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough, dusting with more flour if needed, to about 1/4- to 1/8-inch thick. Use a fluted 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter to stamp out as many cookies as possible and reroll the scraps as necessary. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Make the frosting: In a large bowl beat together the softened butter with about 1 cup (100 grams) powdered sugar until the butter is mostly combined into the sugar and no large pieces remain. It will look crumbly but don’t fret. Set aside while you make the candy cane cream.
Use a rolling pin (or other heavy kitchen item) to finely crush the candy canes in a heavy-duty plastic bag. You should get about 1/4 cup of crushed candy and you want the pieces to be very small so they melt quickly and evenly. Combine the crushed candy cane and half and half in a small saucepan. Slowly heat the mixture over low heat - whisking constantly – until all the candy cane bits have melted. Be careful not the let the mixture boil. The half and half should just be warm enough so that it melts the candy and when the they have melted completely, turn off the heat.
With the beaters running slowly pour the candy cane cream into the butter and powdered sugar mixture and whip until combined. Add the remaining cup of powdered sugar and beat for several minutes, scraping the bowl as needed, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. Taste the frosting and add a few drops of peppermint extract if you feel it needs more mint zing! (I added about 1/8 teaspoon of extract.)
Assemble the sandwich cookies: Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with wide tip (I couldn’t find mine and used just the coupler) and pipe a small amount of frosting on the bottom side of half of the cookies. Place the remaining cookies on top and gently squeeze each sandwich together to spread the filling to the edges.
Filled cookies can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for several days.
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*Candy canes come in every which size and shape so I know the qualifier of “two medium candy canes” is not the most helpful. The ones I used came from a standard box of twelve (which are sold at most grocery and drug stores here in the US) and were about 6 inches long. That said, all that really matters is that in the end you have about 1/4 cup of finely crushed canes. If you do happen to have any extra candy cane dust might I suggest stirring them into the finished buttercream for crunchy little bits of candy cane goodness? It may make these cookies extra super duper awesome.